What Is Apathy?
Apathy is marked by a lack of motivation, interest, emotion and self-initiated response. Apathy suggests a loss of hope or an unwillingness to pursue goals. It is increasingly being recognized as a distinct condition. Apathy is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and many other neuropsychiatric and medical conditions.
Common Signs of Apathy in Seniors
- Lack of interest in favorite activities or hobbies
- No emotional response to positive or negative stimulus
- Reduced energy levels
- Dropping of former activities and friendships
- Becoming isolated or refusing to leave home
- Avoidance of unfamiliar people or the outside world
- Excessive sleeping
- Diminished psychomotor ability
Is It Apathy or Depression?
Distinguishing between apathy and clinical depression is a diagnostic challenge. The two share symptoms such as diminished interest, lack of insight and fatigue, but depression is identified by additional symptoms including self-criticism, feelings of guilt, pessimism, cynicism, hopelessness, deep sadness and thoughts of suicide. Complicating matters further is the fact that depression and apathy may occur concomitantly, and either or both may be due to situational rather than physiological causes.
Combating Apathy in the Elderly Population
Treatment for apathy is complex and may involve multiple approaches. Management of related underlying medical conditions is paramount. Any unnecessary medications that can alter mood or cognitive function should be discontinued or reduced. If conservative measures are not successful, drugs such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors may help. When apathy is situational or psychological, assisted living facilities that provide comprehensive support and programs encouraging social interaction and sensory stimulation can make a significant impact.
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